Photo by Jonas Denil on Unsplash
I’m an oldest child and as a result I’m not a big fan of doing new things if I’m not certain that I will be able to be succesfull immediately. Which is hard because I love learning new things. The conflict of wanting to learn something new while at the same time not failing at the new thing means that I most often default to academic pursuits. You see, when you’re reading and studying something new you can’t really fail at it. Knowledge acquisiton has no real world implications in the same way that learning to change the oil on my car might.
For instance, if I mess up changing the oil on my car, I can cost myself a lot of money. I can ruin my car. So, I outsource this to a professional. If I am reading and learning about some new topic and I don’t really comprehend it, it’s not really going to cost me anything.
I think the reality is that many of us want life and faith to work this way on a regular basis. We are willing to learn new things when the cost is low. But when the cost is high we would probably rather outsource it to a professional.
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. - G.K. Chesterton from What is Wrong With the World
This little line from Chesterton is often quoted. I think this is because it’s so true. Particularly, as we consider the world within which we find ourselves today. The United States Christian is, by and large, a demanding consumer.
The system that has been built is one based on the wants and desires of the congregational consumer. The questions that are asked in the boardrooms of many congregations are typically about (1) how do we keep the congregants we have, (2) how do we keep them from going to the “cooler” building down the street, and (3) how do we get people from the cooler congregation to come here. Do those questions get explicitly asked? No. They absolutely don’t. But, when you sit in the meetings and you hear the nature of the conversastions it is clear what is really going on and what the underlying questions are.
Why has the system been set up this way? Because Christians in the U.S. have found the Christian ideal too difficult. So, they have outsourced it to professionals. Parenting has been outsourced to children’s ministry, youth ministry, children’ts directors, and youth pastors. Discipleship has been outsourced to young adult pastors, small group pastors, men’s and women’s ministry directors. Congregational singing has been outsourced to bands and worship leaders. Communal study of the Scriptures has been outsourced to the dynamic speaker on the platform.
Am I being too harsh? Maybe. I’m open to that possibility.
As I look at the way we as US Christians live out the faith it makes me wonder whether we have counted the cost. It seems like we want something easy. Because the actual following of Jesus is so very difficult it’s easier to simply let someone else really do the work.
In Matthew 8 we read this little story,
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
The “teacher of the law” and the “disciple” in this story had just seen Jesus do remarkable things. There was this huge crowd gathered around him and they were wanting Jesus to do remarkable things for them too. These two wanted to follow Jesus and be close to such power.
If this was happening today, we would expect Jesus to respond with, “Awesome! Welcome aboard friends! Here’s what I can offer you as you join our community.” But he doesn’t. He says, “Let me tell you how hard this is going to be.”
Notice that one of the men was called a “disciple.” He was someone who had already identified himself as one who was following Jesus.
Jesus wanted them to understand that to follow him was not easy or comfortable. These are concepts that are by and large not part of the vocabulary of the Christian in the United States. No, we want to be entertained. We want our faith to be easy. When it comes to our faith we are all like oldest children. If it’s not going to be easy then we don’t really want to do it.
To follow Jesus is hard. It demands all of who we are. It is simple to follow him. We just do it. But, following Jesus demands us to love our neighbor and to love our enemy. There is nothing easy about those things. To do the following of Jesus is beyond difficult.
So, we outsource it.
Then we say we follow Jesus and point to our affiliations with those we pay who do follow Jesus.
So, are you doing the following of Jesus or are you just talking about the following of Jesus?